“Made in the USA” is a point of pride stateside (and maybe a punchline in the rest of the world, but I’m ‘Merkan, so go with me here) denoting care, craftsmanship and a job well done, with a personal touch to boot. Sadly, this notion doesn’t carry over to American Made, the debut album from Maryland-based pop punk quartet Wakefield; it’s a faceless album that could have come off an assembly line in Guatemala. Even in a genre overloaded with interchangeable bands—does anyone past puberty know the difference between Sum 41 and blink-182?—Wakefield stands out by dint of, um, not standing out.
Of course, the horrible joke about all this “American Exceptionalism” is that American Made was produced by Matt Wallace, who has worked with one of the greatest American rock bands of the last 20 years, the Replacements (though, admittedly, no one would argue that 1989’s Wallace-produced Don’t Tell a Soul was a highwater mark for the band). But there’s still the connection of American punk rock linking the Replacements and Wakefield. While, yes, Westerberg and co. were once snot-nosed punks (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash, anyone?), they were also the freakin’ Replacements! I listened to the ‘Mats. I knew the ‘Mats. The ‘Mats were a favorite band of mine. Wakefield, you’re no ‘Mats.
Granted, Wakefield would rather be Green Day or, at the very least, mallpunk heartthrobs du jour Good Charlotte than the Replacements, but punk rock is punk rock and cookie cutter girl trouble songs like “Unsweet Sixteen” and “Girls Rock Boys” won’t lift them out of the jayvee pop punk ranks. Ditto for “L7 (Medication)”, which finds lead singer Ryan Escolopio’s narrator blaming his problems with girls on “the medication I was on”. Dude, you’re 18! The only medications you should be on are Flintstones vitamins.
American Made manages to rise out of the muck when the band injects a dose of cynicism into their songwriting. “Positive Reinforcement”, maybe the album’s best song, with JD Tennyson’s bright guitar line leading the charge, sneers “Today sucks / You knew it would”, while “Sold Out” brags that Wakefield is “in it for the money” and that the band members “sold their soul to the devil last night and wrote this song”. It’s about as insightful as Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out”. And pardon the digression, but if Wakefield is gonna crib a Frank Zappa album title for a song lyric, they should have followed through and sold their souls for “titties ‘n’ beer”. American Made wouldn’t have been so mawkish.
To wit, “Heaven’s Coming”, Wakefield’s stab at a Bic lighter-waving song, plods along and adds nothing to the venerable car crash song canon. And the maudlin “Goodbye” (“Screw hello / You had me at goodbye”) could be any number of pop punk bands sinking in the deep end of the emotion pool.
I cover enough of these pop punk bands when they tour in my area for the local newspaper to know there’s an army of young teens and tweens who worship at the altar of noisy, unsubtle, rebellious in a conformist sort of way (like your typical teen) and utterly disposable (hopefully not any teen you know) acts like Wakefield. They wear the t-shirts and know every lyric, and there’s no convincing them of Wakefield’s mediocrity. As such American Made should come with a warning: “Not suitable for anyone over the age of fourteen.”